Baby on board! A guide to maternity and paternity workplace rights

As much as we like to think we can have it all, all at once, the BBC’s Babies in the Office programme about Addison Lee’s radical scheme offers clear evidence that children in the workplace doesn’t tend to make for an easy life. So, for the majority of us, that stick turning blue means we need to find the best way to break the news to our employer and negotiate the tricky terrain of maternity or paternity leave.

Expectant mums

Start the conversation early
As a pregnant employee, you have the right to 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave, which combined makes up the 52 weeks of guaranteed Statutory Maternity Leave.

However, the earlier you tell your employer of your decision to take leave, the more accommodating they’re likely to be and the more time you have to arrange cover and ensure a smooth transition.

Regardless, you have inform them 15 weeks before the beginning of your due week to qualify for full Statutory Maternity Leave (or as soon as possible if you couldn’t at that stage – for example, if you didn’t know you were pregnant).

Put it in writing
You need to inform your employer of your situation in writing, even if you’ve already done so verbally. Use our ‘Maternity leave letter’ to give them the legally required information that ensures your leave, such as when the baby is due and when you want to start and finish your leave.

Your employer may also ask for a MAT B1 maternity certificate, which confirms the due date. You can get one from your doctor or midwife once you’ve been pregnant for at least 21 weeks.

If for any reason you need to change start date of your leave, use this letter to make a formal request. You’ll need to give your employer at least 28 days’ notice before the new start date (if you’re bringing it forward) or 28 days’ notice before the original start date (if you want to push it back).

Expectant dads

Do you qualify?
You’re entitled to Ordinary Paternity Leave (up to two weeks) if you’re taking time off to support the mother or carer of the baby and you are the:

  • Biological father
  • Child’s adopter
  • Or husband/partner of the biological or adoptive mother

This also applies to same-sex relationships.

Note that you’ll need to have been with your employer for at least 26 weeks by either the end of the 15th week before the due week or the end of the week you’re notified of an adoptive match to guarantee leave.

Your leave can start on any day of the week (but not before the baby is born) and must finish within 56 days of the birth. You can change the start date of your leave as long as you give at least 28 days’ notice.

If you’re a worker rather than an employee, you won’t qualify for automatic leave, but you may still qualify for Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay (which is paid for up to two consecutive weeks).

Some employers have their own leave arrangements, which are more generous than the statutory entitlement. Check your employment contract or contact HR to find out what your company offers.

Put it in writing
Notify your employer with this letter that you want to take Ordinary Paternity Leave and – if applicable – receive Ordinary Statutory Paternity Pay. You’ll need to give them legally required information, such as when the baby is due and when you want to start and finish your leave. You must inform them at least 15 weeks before the beginning of the due week.

Use this letter if you want to request paternity leave – and pay if applicable – for an adoption. The notice period is within seven days of being informed by the adoption agency that you’ve been matched with a child.

If you’re not sure whether you’re entitled to leave and/or pay, these letters will help you clarify your situation. Even if you don’t have a statutory entitlement, your employer may still grant you either/both at their discretion.

Mums and Dads

If you’re experiencing problems or you have any further questions, please get in touch with us.

Employers

Clearly communicate your company’s maternity and paternity leave rights in your Employee Handbook. Make sure you update it in line with current employment legislation and contact our expert team if you have any queries.

Getting building work done on your home? Don’t get ripped off

The UK is the third least affordable country in Europe for housing costs according to the European Union, with 16.5% of the population spending more than 40% of their income on areas such as mortgage, rent, insurance and repairs.

This means many people are making trade-offs between daily amenities like food and petrol and bigger property expenditure in the form of rent or mortgage and repairs. Of course, the fact that many home repairs turn out to be far more costly and complex than originally anticipated doesn’t help matters.

Can we fix it?
In the words of Bob the Builder, yes we can! Before you start your project, make sure you do the following:

•    Get a quote Don’t commit to anything before getting an estimate (an educated guess at what the job will cost) or a quotation (a fixed price for work completed). Most builders will prefer to give the former, but you can use our ‘Contracting with a builder’ document to help you convert an estimate into a quotation and figure out whether you’ve been given a good price
•    Get it in writing Even if your building plans are relatively modest (like decorating or garden design), get your builder to complete a ‘Small-scale building contract’. This helps you establish clear terms, such as scope of the work and timescale, and creates a legal record

How do you solve a problem like a builder?
Of course, even the best-made plans can go awry. But if you’re experiencing trouble with your project, there are ways of addressing it legally in order to get the work back on track, within budget, or – in the worst-case scenario – terminate your contract or seek redress.

•    Reject a bill If the final invoice exceeds the quotation or estimate, send your builder a letter rejecting it. Note that an estimate may be slightly higher or lower than the final charge, but a quotation must be exact, whether or not your builder has done more or less work
•    Access to neighbour’s property If you or your builders need to go onto your neighbour’s land to carry out necessary repairs, send this letter to request access. If your neighbour refuses, you may be able to obtain a county court order
•    Faulty work If your builder’s work is faulty, send this letter requesting they put it right. Specify a reasonable amount of time in which they must complete the work and warn them that you’ll employ another builder and recover the costs if they don’t finish it
•    Delays If you’ve agreed a completion date or been given a reasonable indication and the work still hasn’t been finished, send your builder an official ‘Complaint’ letter. If your builder doesn’t address the problem, you can terminate the contract
•    Terminate a contract If you’ve sent out your complaint letter and your builder hasn’t solved the problem, send them an official termination letter to let them know you’re employing someone else to complete the work
•    Fixing faulty work If you’ve asked your builder to fix faulty work and haven’t received a response, hire a new builder. You can then send the original builder a letter with the new builder’s estimates and warn them that you’re seeking reimbursement of those costs
•    Cost of completing work If you’ve had to terminate your original builder’s contract because they haven’t completed the work, send them a letter with the new builder’s estimates for completion. Your original builder can then offer to finish the work, challenge the estimates or offer to settle your claim
•    Cost of new builder Once your new builder has completed the work, send your original builder a letter demanding payment of the new builder’s costs and warn them that you’ll be forced to recover those costs in court unless they pay up. If the cost of employing your new builder is more than what you paid your original builder, you can also send them a letter demanding payment of that sum

Don’t be afraid to take action to protect your property and get a fair deal – get started now with our ‘Managing a builder’ pack or ‘Contracting with a builder’ pack.

If you have any further questions, get in touch with our team.

Prenups: who should make one and why

Perhaps the most scandalous element of Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise’s recent split isn’t the rumoured influence of Scientology or whispers about Tom’s sexuality, but the fact that their divorce went through with such relative ease. Frustrated tabloid journalists had only just got wind of the separation when the divorce was finalised and assets amicably divided – no public mudslinging, no controversy, no hassle.

A major part of this unusually civilised split was most likely the cast-iron prenuptial agreement Holmes signed before their marriage, which reportedly includes a generous multi-million-dollar financial settlement for each of their years of marriage and strict instructions on their child’s upbringing, including religious freedom.

While most of us don’t have a vast fortune or public profile to consider, we can certainly appreciate the positive effect a prenup can have. Yes, it may be an awkward conversation to instigate with your husband- or wife-to-be, but you can view it as an extension of the commitment you’re making by getting hitched – planning out a life together and preparing for all eventualities.

Who should make a prenup?
Anyone entering into a marriage or civil partnership agreement. You don’t need to have huge sums of money involved or a major difference between your and your partner’s assets – it’s still a sensible move to come to an agreement on big issues and get it down in writing.

What decisions can you make?
It’s completely up to you, but a prenup allows you to address areas such as:

•    Property Decide what happens to your marital home and other property owned separately or jointly
•    Financial and other assets Make arrangements for the division of assets such as joint bank accounts, contents of your home and specific gifts
•    Maintenance Agree on a maintenance payment in the event of a separation
•    Dependents If you have dependent relatives or children from a previous marriage, ensure their interests aren’t jeopardised in the event of a divorce
•    Keep it in the family Protect money, property or other assets you’ve inherited from being sold or depleted
•    Overseas wealth If you’re not a UK resident and you have assets outside the UK, the English courts will likely divide your worldwide assets between you and your spouse unless you declare otherwise in a prenup

Is it legally enforceable?
Strictly not, but the courts now often take a prenup into account when deciding on a final financial settlement. You’ll also save money on extra meetings with divorce lawyers if you have a strong basis for the discussion of how to divide your major assets.

It’s important to note that divorce can sometimes be rather a lottery, so the more steps you can take to protect your interests, the better.

Get started now with our ‘Prenuptial/Pre-civil partnership agreement pack’ or contact us to discuss your situation.

What are ‘trusts’? A guide to the different types available

When I hear trust fund, I immediately think of preppy privileged teens on an American TV drama blowing money on sports cars, so I was surprised to discover that trusts are rather more democratic and widespread.

Put simply, a trust is a legal arrangement where one person entrusts an asset (e.g. property, land, money, shares or other valuables) to another to look after for their own benefit and/or for the benefit of a third party. The person looking after the asset is a ‘trustee’ and the person benefiting is – appropriately enough – the ‘beneficiary’.

A trust is a delicate balancing act, as the trustee becomes the legal owner of the asset, but they must at all times put the interests of the beneficiary above their own. This applies even if one of the trustees is the person who created the trust. You can set up a trust in your lifetime or provide in your Will for a trust to be set up on your death.

Common trusts
You may already be familiar with a trust in the form of a:

•    Pension scheme Pension scheme trustees hold and invest pension contributions for the benefit of the members of the scheme when they retire.
    Insurance Some insurance policies are ‘written in trust’, meaning when the insured person dies, the insurer pays out the money to a third party in line with their wishes. This can help minimise inheritance tax, and ensure that the insurance money is received quicker by the person you want to benefit.
•    Charity The advantage of the trust structure for charitable funding is that the person setting up the trust can put aside money for a cause, e.g. medical research, but leave it up to the trustees’ discretion as to which research projects will be funded (the projects are the beneficiaries in this case).

Types of trust
You can set up a trust to help you manage your personal affairs – it’s a great way of holding and managing money or property for people who aren’t ready or able to do it themselves, e.g. young children or vulnerable relatives, or providing for someone, like a spouse, while also protecting the interests of others, like children. You can even set up a trust for someone who hasn’t been born yet, such as future grandchildren.

Trusts can be vital in planning succession in family business, or figuring out how money and assets pass from one generation to another, particularly in complex family structures with divorces and multiple marriages.

Here are a few examples of useful trusts:
•    Land/property If you want to give someone rights in a piece of land or property, you can use a ‘Declaration of trust relating to land’. If there are two owners and you want to clarify how you own the asset, or you want to create a trust for your benefit and the benefit of another person, use ‘Declaration of trust relating to land for one or two co-owners’. This document can provide that, on the death of one co-owner, their share either passes to the other co-owner or to an heir.
•    Personal property For any assets other than land or buildings (from cars or furniture to intellectual property rights or proceeds of an insurance policy), use ‘Declaration of trust relating to personal property’ and this document creates a trust for those assets.
•    Life interest trust You can set up a simple trust for one beneficiary for their lifetime with a ‘Simple life interest trust for adult life tenant and family’. This document means the income of the trust fund (which comes from a major asset like a property) is paid out to the beneficiary or ‘life tenant’ until the beneficiary’s death, after which it can pass to their spouse/civil partner or children. You can also use a Comprehensive Will to set up a life interest trust that takes effect on your death.
•    Discretionary Trust Will If you own a part share of your marital home and that share is worth more than £50,000 after mortgage deduction, you can use a ‘Discretionary Trust Will’ to look after your major asset (up to a particular value). The document can help you protect against threats such as a local authority selling it to cover the cost of residential nursing care for your spouse/civil partner. You can also specify how you want to provide for dependants (including children from a former marriage), what should happen to your remaining estate when you die and who should inherit which money and belongings, plus you can name a guardian for children under 18 and appoint executors to administer your estate.

If you have any further questions about trusts, do contact our customer services team.

47% of births in England & Wales out of wedlock. Is marriage becoming obsolete?

Love and marriage no longer go together like a horse and carriage – at least not according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), whose figures reveal that the number of unmarried British couples cohabiting has steadily increased, as has the number of children born out of wedlock.

While this is probably a natural progression in a society where terms like ‘living in sin’ and ‘out of wedlock’ are now restricted to Victorian novels, it does raise the question of whether marriage and civil partnership will become minority enterprises if couples can both share a home and become parents without societal or legal ramifications.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie may be taking the matrimonial plunge at last, but they began their family together without the need to say ‘I do’, and British couples are following suit: in 2011, 47.2% of the 723,913 births in England and Wales were out of wedlock, up from 46.8% in 2010 and 40% in 2001.

This trend was mirrored by the number of unmarried couples cohabiting, at 2.9 million in 2011 up from 2.1 million in 2001, and by the number of dependent children living with opposite-sex cohabiting parents, up from 1.3 million to 1.8 million in the same period. In fact, 2011 saw 38% of cohabiting couples with children, the same percentage as married parents.

Whether or not couples eventually succumb to romance, tradition or family preference and opt for marriage, this trend highlights the need for a greater understanding of the legal status of unmarried couples.

Partners who might previously have saved issues like Wills and living agreements for their Big Day will need to face them sooner if they’re planning on committing to a future together without rings and vows.

This isn’t the easiest subject to broach, particularly when it’s not softened by the romantic allure of a wedding, but it is a legal necessity for couples sharing major assets like property or the responsibility of parenting.

These are the two key documents to work on:

•    ‘Comprehensive Will for an unmarried person’. Unmarried couples who have not left Wills fare little better than individuals when it comes to inheriting from their partner, so it’s vital you make your wishes known. You can make your Wills together and co-ordinate bequests and instructions, as well as making individual gifts, and also decide on major issues such as property inheritance and guardianship for your children.

•    ‘Cohabitation agreement. If you’re living together or planning to live together, this document can help you protect your interests and agree financial terms. It’s also useful in the unfortunate event of you breaking up, as you’ve agreed on how to deal with issues like division of joint assets and bank accounts. It may seem cynical, but this can actually help you commit to moving your relationship forward – just as you would with marriage – as well as ensuring your individual security.

If you have any further questions, contact our customer services team.

Top 10 tips on making a Will

I knew I’d have to make a Will eventually, but I always put it off because I thought it would be so expensive and lengthy that deciding who got my money after I died would become irrelevant! I was also scared of legal jargon, strange Government policies and a solicitor’s Leveson Inquiry levels of interrogation about my ‘creative’ filing system and Murdoch-esque selective memory.

The bad news: it is up there with moving house, taking exams and filling out tax returns in terms of initial stress. The good news: if you do your homework (preferably without Twitter procrastination), it’s actually achievable, even for an English lit graduate with a hazier grasp of money than Greece’s finance ministers.

My top 10 tips:

1.    Keep calm and carry on. Yes, it involves strange thoughts about death and legacy and whether you should set up a trust fund for your dog (you just know Pudsey has one), but don’t panic. Remember, if you don’t make a Will, the court decides who gets what, and someone you love will miss out – or have to pay big taxes.
2.    Lawyer up. You can’t bluff your way through this by reading Wikipedia, but you also don’t need to shell out hundreds of pounds. Register to access the MyLawyer Law Guide for a wealth of jargon-free legal information.
3.    Location, location, location. If you own property, this is a good place to start, as it’s probably one of your major ‘assets’ (valuable things you leave behind). Find out what your house or flat is worth before you begin.
4.    Money, money, money. Similarly, gather up all the information on anything in the plus column (bank accounts, pensions, life assurance policies) and minus (debts, mortgage, liabilities. My delightful stack of financial documents is now a Turner Prize-baiting art installation.
5.    Become Alan Sugar. Choosing executors – the people who handle everything when you’re gone – is key, so get tough! Only tell the most reliable, fair people and best companies “You’re hired”.
6.    Take stock. Sort through all your possessions (good time for spring cleaning in my case) and decide whether they’re part of your main estate or going to different people. You can…
7.    Enjoy the gift of giving. Credit crunch shopping – you get to give presents you’ve already paid for! Choose the perfect memento for loved ones (I often resort to Amazon and iTunes vouchers, so this took a lot of thought).
8.    Rival Bono. You can pick charities to honour with your generosity – and annoy friends with your newfound levels of saintly satisfaction.
9.    Children in need. As with executors, get tough and pick the very best guardians for your kids (and/or Britain’s Got Talent winning pets), and substitutes in case the first choice doesn’t work out. Unless you want this to be a hilarious surprise, don’t forget to clear it with them!
10.    Get morbid. I’ve wept over Four Weddings and a Funeral but hadn’t given much thought to my own service. However, this turned out to be a nice Desert Island Discs exercise – picking music and readings that meant something to me (although a live appearance from Gareth Malone and the Military Wives Choir is probably a long shot).

The best news is, once you’ve made a Will, that’s it! You’ll only have to make small changes when you have changes in your life – marriage, children, buying a new home, wining the lottery… Plus, the feeling when you cross the finish line rivals that of an Olympic athlete winning Gold at 2012 (I’m guessing). At the very least, it’s a huge relief knowing it’s taken care of and you can go on living your life.

Check out the MyLawyer Wills & Probate Centre to find out more.

Commerzbank forced to pay bankers £40 million bonuses in High Court ruling

Courtside: the latest legal news from MyLawyer

At MyLawyer, we pride ourselves on staying up to date with the latest legal developments in all areas, from finance and property to probate and the fast-changing technology sector. Our legal team feed this knowledge into our documents and take it into account when offering you advice.

We’ll also give you the latest news from the courts and Government rulings and explain how it applies to you.

Commerzbank forced to pay bankers £40 million bonuses in High Court ruling

Commerzbank will take a major hit after the High Court ordered them to pay €50 million (£40 million) in discretionary bonuses to 104 London investment bankers because of a four-year-old ‘binding’ contract.

Commerzbank, the second-largest bank in Germany, began negotiations to acquire Dresdner Kleinwort from insurers Allianz back in 2008, prior to the economic downturn.

Uncertainty over Dresdner’s future caused staff to threaten a mass exodus, leading CEO Stefan Jentzsch to promise investment bankers a share in a ‘guaranteed’ minimum bonus pool of €400 million.

Mr Jentzch’s announcement was transmitted live through Dresdner’s intranet and confirmed by HR emails. Employees were also sent confirmation letters stating that provisional bonus awards were subject to there being ‘no material adverse change’ in Dresdner’s fortunes, but Mr Jentzsch reassured employees it was unlikely they would rely on this clause.

However, after Dresdner sustained heavy losses in the credit crunch, new owners Commerzbank invoked the clause, reducing the bonus pool by 90%. Dresdner employees sued Commerzbank and the court found in their favour, stating that the word ‘guaranteed’ creating a legally binding agreement.

High Court judge Justice Owen said that, although bankers’ bonuses is a subject ‘of intense public interest’, this case concerned ‘the nature and existence of contractual obligations owed to the claimants by their employer’, not ‘wider issues as to the structure of remuneration within the banking industry’.

Commerzbank, which needed a government bailout after buying loss-making Dresdner and remains partly in state hands, will now have to pay Dresdner bankers sums amounting in some cases to more than €2 million (£1.6 million) each. Costs of fighting the case, thought to be about £15 million, are also likely to be borne by Commerzbank.

This ruling could encourage other employees, both within and outside the banking industry, to sue over promised bonuses, and lead employers to become more cautious about discussing incentives with staff in informal meetings.

How MyLawyer can help you
This case has some major lessons for employers, in particular:
•    Avoid using the word ‘guarantee’ when discussing bonuses with employees – you risk creating a contracting obligation
•    Be aware that an informal announcement can still be binding
•    Avoid applying conditions on payment after informing staff of a payment, as you’ll breach your implied duty of trust and confidence, which could result in a claim
•    Instead of committing to a quick solution for a short-term issue, plan ahead and consider the long-term effects on your business

If in doubt, consult our range of employment contracts (‘Employment agreement‘, ‘Fixed-term employment agreement‘ and ‘Executive director’s service agreement‘).

Employees dismissed due to lack of work can claim redundancy

Courtside: the latest legal news from MyLawyer

At MyLawyer, we pride ourselves on staying up to date with the latest legal developments in all areas, from finance and property to probate and the fast-changing technology sector. Our legal team feed this knowledge into our documents and take it into account when offering you advice.

We’ll also give you the latest news from the courts and Government rulings and explain how it applies to you.

Employees dismissed due to lack of work can claim redundancy

A bookkeeper dismissed after refusing to cut her hours will be awarded statutory redundancy payment after a new ruling by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).

Following the introduction of a new accountancy software package, which increased efficiency, and a downturn in business, south London-based structural engineers Packman Lucas asked bookkeeper Mrs P. Fauchon to reduce her hours. When she refused, she was fired and subsequently claimed unfair dismissal.

Packman Lucas cited legal precedent in claiming that it wasn’t redundancy because there was no reduction in staff headcount, an argument accepted by the EAT in the case Aylward v Glamorgan Holiday Home Ltd back in 2002.

However, the employment tribunal disregarded that precedent and decided that downturn in business meant there was a diminishing need for bookkeeping, and as Mrs Fauchon didn’t agree to reducing her hours significantly, the reason for her dismissal was redundancy and she should be awarded the £11,210 redundancy payment.

Packman Lucas appealed, but the EAT dismissed their case, noting that the Aylward decision is flawed, although the tribunal should still have followed the precedent.

This ruling means that if the amount of work available for the same number of employees is reduced, then a dismissal of an employee caused wholly or mainly for that reason is a redundancy and can result in payment.

How MyLawyer can help you

Make sure your employment terms and disciplinary procedures are up to date and communicated clearly to your staff with our ‘Employment agreement’, ‘Employee handbook’ and ‘Discipline and dismissal pack’. If you have any further questions, contact our customer services team.

What is probate?

If probate sounds like a terrifying prospect (simultaneously probing and baiting something never ends well), rest assured that you’ll never have to do it for your own estate, but you may well have to do it for someone else’s. Probate is the legal process of dealing with all the things that someone leaves behind after they die (property, possessions, money, general admin).

The process works differently depending on the circumstances, so here’s a quick guide:

The person who died left a Will … and named executors
You can nominate one or more people in your Will to manage the probate process for you – they’re known as the ‘executors’ of your estate.

The executors apply for legal document called a ‘Grant of probate’ from a section of the court known as the Probate Registry – you can fill out the forms yourself or ask a solicitor to help you. The grant of probate gives you authority to deal with finances and admin as laid out in the Will – for example, sharing out assets.

The person who died left a Will … but didn’t name executors
In this case, the people who benefit under the Will can apply (in order of priority) for a document called a ‘Grant of letters of administration (with Will annexed)’. That gives them authority as administrators to carry out the probate process, as above.

The person who died didn’t leave a Will
This is known as ‘dying intestate’ and means they don’t have any nominated executors. If you’re next of kin, you can apply for the right to administer the estate through a document called ‘Grant of letters of administration’ – as above, this gives you authority as an administrator to deal with finance and admin.

The person who died lived in Scotland
The process is similar, but instead of applying for the documents listed above, you apply for a ‘Grant of confirmation’.

Do I always need a grant?
Usually – you need a grant if the person who dies leaves stocks or shares, certain insurance policies and/or property or land held in their name or as ‘tenants in common’. The institutions associated with these things (such as banks) will most likely need to see the grant before transferring control of the assets, although some small organisations (such as some building societies) can release money to you at their discretion.

However, you don’t need a grant if the person who died left less than £5,000 and/or they owned everything jointly with someone else and it passes automatically to them. In this case, all you’ll need to do is inform the institutions of the death and show them a photocopy of the death certificate.

Don’t forget tax
If Inheritance Tax is due on the estate, some or all of it must be paid before you’ll be given a grant and allowed to carry out probate.

For more details, go to our ‘Probate pack’ or contact our customer services team.